Elle

Multi-Monitor Usage

Multi-monitor Usage Poll   19 votes

  1. 1. How many monitors do you use on your work computer?

    • One monitor (laptop)
      2
    • One monitor (standard/LCD)
      9
    • 2 monitors
      8
    • 3 monitors
      0
    • Other (please elaborate in thread, tks)
      0

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26 posts in this topic

I am conducting research on multi-monitor usage for work related tasks and multi-tasking. If you use your computer more than one hour a day in a non-work setting your information would still be relevant.

Please tell me about your set-up, what you used before and why you like your current setup more (I'm assuming it is better, or you would have reverted to the previous setup). Please tell me about the kind of work you do and what windows/applications you tend to have open, as well as how many at any given time. If you're really into this topic, feel free to give me as much detail as you want.

I think there is a connection between cognition and visual display of information - very much in the same vein as the "crow epistemology". This is still a loose connection for me, which needs to be substantiated by a lot more quantitative data in order to justify the implementation of the optimal setup in a work setting.

Has anyone read on this - can you reccomend anyone's paper or other research?

Thanks in advance for your interest!

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Hey Elle! :)

I use 2 monitors at work; I do engineering design work for a manufacturing plant, graphics intensive.

The left (primary) is 19", 1600x1200. The right is 17", 1280x1024.

Applications I keep running consistently are: Autodesk Inventor 8, Excel (usually three documents), Outlook, Firefox (at least two tabs), two Windows Explorer windows, a unit conversion program (Convert), and the Windows Calculator.

I also use these applications from time to time: Autodesk DWF Viewer, Cosmos DesignSTAR, and Adobe Acrobat.

I used to have four monitors... that was the sweetest setup. The third display was my laptop LCD, 15.1", 1024x768, left of the primary. I had another monitor connected as a "slave" to my laptop which served as the fourth: 19", 1280x1024, sitting to the right of the 17" monitor. I was able to connect them to my work PC using MaxiVista.

I use only two monitors now because I like keeping my laptop at home. It's too much work setting up the extra two monitors everyday.

For multitasking in my environment, four monitors would be ideal if only the resolution was at least 1280x1024 on the quartet. Regardless, having immediate access to my four main programs on eyesight allowed me to work at a notably higher pace (3-5% productivity increase, I reckon).

As a side note: I used to lose track of which monitor my mouse was on sometimes. I think this software had a keyboard command to either help you find it or automatically center it on the monitor of your choice (I don't remember).

I think there is a connection between cognition and visual display of information - very much in the same vein as the "crow epistemology".
Sounds interesting, could you elaborate?

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For a long time I've used my laptop screen and keyboard as primary. Now I have a wireless k-board at work and a flat panel, and I like the fact that the screen sits much higher and puts less stress on my neck.

As to home, I'm still using the laptop screen but now that I'm starting to do some photography, I think I'm going to get a bigger rig with one or 2 flat panels. People in photography seem to think that 2 screens are very useful and I could see why that would be the case. I'm not sure my amateurish skills and usage warrants it though...

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Please tell me about your set-up, what you used before and why you like your current setup more (I'm assuming it is better, or you would have reverted to the previous setup). Please tell me about the kind of work you do and what windows/applications you tend to have open, as well as how many at any given time. If you're really into this topic, feel free to give me as much detail as you want.

At the moment, I have two 19" monitors running on a Windows XP box at work. I am currently running a trajectory optimizer called OTIS on the left monitor. Yes, I am still running FORTRAN code in this day and age! :) So I have an MS-DOS command prompt, a Windows Explorer window, and the OTIS input file opened up in Wordpad on that monitor -- which I consider to be the input side.

The right monitor, output, has Matlab running from which I run a script that will parse an OTIS output file and display plots. Also, I can look into the OTIS output plot, a long list of tabular data, directly. When I double click its icon on the left hand side, I have is set to pop up on the right monitor.

A big part of the job is to come up with launch trajectories that are sub-optimal initial guesses, and this a very iterative process. First, tweak the input text file, then run OTIS in its non-optimizing "brute force" mode in the command window, and the run the Matlab script on the right monitor to get a quick look at the results. If I need more detail, I mouse back over to the Windows Explorer window, double click the output file, and then mouse back over to the right and dive into the details.

I can do all of this without ever hiding a window! Plus I always have Media Player running (must have my music!) and will often also have Adobe Acrobat running with the OTIS user's manual loaded and an Excel spreadsheet with technical data if I need to look something up. These I keep hidden because I don't need them often, so I don't mind fishing for them. I'd hate to go back to hiding and unhiding windows on a single monitor again -- it would slow me to half speed!

I think there is a connection between cognition and visual display of information - very much in the same vein as the "crow epistemology". This is still a loose connection for me, which needs to be substantiated by a lot more quantitative data in order to justify the implementation of the optimal setup in a work setting.

Has anyone read on this - can you reccomend anyone's paper or other research?

Thanks in advance for your interest!

I agree wholeheartedly that there is a connection between cognition and visual display of information! A huge part of my job in the past has been arranging information on a computer screen (or screens) in spacecraft control centers such that the most important data is immediately available (for me always in the upper left), and less important data is then always in the same place. In my experience individual operators had their own systems. My system was to arrange tabular data on the left side of the screen(s) with the most important on the top and plots on the right -- again with the most important on the top.

But that is just an informal description of my own experience. I don't have any specific papers to point you to, but searching on topics like aircraft cockpit and spacecraft/industrial control center display design might be a good place to start.

I hope that helped.

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I don't yet use a computer in a career capacity. I'm still a student ... ish.

I have a single monitor at home with my box and use it for everything. It's a rather cheap ~2.5 year old 17" CRT [FS7550 @ 1024x768] I had gotten for my 18th. I also have a 15" Dell FP to which I may upgrade, if I can't sell it. I've never used multiple computers, and I don't see its applicability to me, but I've heard a lot of praise for the setup. If my second monitor doesn't sell, I'll try it.

I use firefox almost exclusively: to write, get the morning news, listen to the radio, read editorials/blogs/books, to retrieve any sort of information from "who said..." to "what is the proper definition of...", communicate [especially with those outside the U.S.], watch television [in a limited fashion], etc. My relationship with my computer is summed up by its name, "Hands"; I might add to that "Eyes, Ears, and Mouth". I always have at least 3 tabs open, sometimes up to ~15.

I use Microsoft Office Word to format and print documents, but all that I have on my computer is a few unfinished projects lying around on the desktop for ready access [comparable to loose paper on a desk]. All my work is saved to an online storage account that is constantly open in firefox. Actually I'm quite proud of my system, it's very efficient and allows me to be completely mobile without a laptop.

I also periodically use Adobe Reader, QuickTime, Real, and Windows Media. I work in VPython frequently, but my pc doesn't handle the program very well, so I use the faster campus computers. In which instance my system comes in handy so I can make quick edits at home if I need to, then run the tests whenever I'm on campus. I keep all these programs in a permanently displayed bottom bar

So everything I need is always right in front of me on one screen, with the click of a tab or an icon.

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I agree wholeheartedly that there is a connection between cognition and visual display of information!
This was my initial reaction too, in a sort of "of course there is" way. But Elle mentions that this is "in the same vein as the 'crow epistemology'," so I thought she might be trying to make a connection between cognition and a maximum number of screens (or programs) a person could juggle (in a productive way)?

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This was my initial reaction too, in a sort of "of course there is" way. But Elle mentions that this is "in the same vein as the 'crow epistemology'," so I thought she might be trying to make a connection between cognition and a maximum number of screens (or programs) a person could juggle (in a productive way)?

Hello David,

Yes, you have nailed it - that is exactly what I am interested in. There are a few very good usability studies that I have found so far discussing use cases in single monitor vs. multi monitor process mapping. What these studies lack (and they even admit that they do) is a framework from which to draw conclusions about why they observe specific things that users do.

For example, it was observed that individuals using multiple screens with the same resolution will not lay an application over the gap in between the screens (in most cases), even when this gap (called a " bevel") is around 1/32"! Other interesting observations have been made about the amount of time spent by the user on resizing and moving application windows, both in a singlemon and multimon setting.

These two examples, and others I have read, lead me to hypothesize that the user is making these choices and adjustments as a response to a cognitive need to take in the visual data in a very specific and organized fashion.

I'm in the very very early stages of this research, which started as something for work but now looks like it might morph into a bigger and longer term project. I'm looking to my company to see if they have an interest in this study for R&D purposes... and so it begins. Over the next few weeks I am going to convert my office into a lab and try to test out various setups.

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These two examples, and others I have read, lead me to hypothesize that the user is making these choices and adjustments as a response to a cognitive need to take in the visual data in a very specific and organized fashion.

To expand on this, I realize there is an entire field in computer science which deals with usability. However, I find the usability of my day-to-day workflow tools to be terrible.

In speaking to many different people who work in the usability capacity at various companies I get the impression that they have made enormously valuable observations about human's behavoir and pyschology in relationship to objects in the work environment. Somehow, this information doesn't make it in to the office - or it does, but very slowly.

I am not really sure if this is a project where I go and try to convince managers to take usability more seriously, and provide an epistemological/pyschological (?) framework for why they should. In the very least, I'd like to satisfy my own curiousity on the subject. And it would be great if I could use this knowledge to help my company make more money, too...

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You should look into the work of Edward Tufte, professor emeritus at Yale and the author of the classic The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and many others. As part of his work on effective visual displays based on using essentials to organize information, Tufte has worked on the effective use of computer monitors at least since the mid 1980s when he lectured on the effective use of color on CGA monitors! I heard one of those early lectures and was impressed with how much he had identified. One of the points he illustrated back then was to avoid the over-use of nonessential color distinctions in unnecessary, space-wasting and distracting ways as it usually was when color was first available -- an elementary beginning in a lesson still missed by many web site designers who overload you with hype and distracting "visual candy". One of Tufte's specialities now is effective use of information in modern web site design. I don't know if he has explicitly addressed mulitple monitors as such, but the same principles would apply.

I have used multiple monitors off and on for a long time; I don't lug an extra monitor around for a laptop, but do connect one at my docking station (and occassionally connect two laptops together to access the common file systems).

The use of muliple monitors as such is more than a matter of screen "real estate" providing more viewing area. It is only one of several layers in a hierarchy involving multiple hardware and software technologies used to organize information.

The next level down is virtual desktops (for one or more monitors) that organize different kinds of information, programs and topics -- each of which is accessible with a hot key or mouse click.

Some programs have for decades had multiple buffer and window display capabilities, including the venerable standby emacs text editor commonly used to edit multiple, related source files in program development. Tabbed browsing is only one of the latest implementations of the concept within a single program. I typically have a dozen or so instances of Firefox running, each with from one to a dozen or more tabs, plus the sidebar with multiple hierarchical scrapbooks. (One instance of Firefox, e.g., is dedicated to this forum, with the "new posts" page always in the first tab, etc.)

I keep many other programs running more or less continuously, some more than once and arranged in sets in the program toolbar. Multiple IE Explorers pointing to different standard locations are also down there. Others include multiple instances of emacs, and shells including bash, 4NT and Putty (and ftp explorer) for secure remote access (using SSH). In addition to the dynamic toolbar, my screen destop is almost filled with icons organized by groups -- no room for a distracting screen background here!

The mental unit economy made possible by the layers of hierarchy make it possible to keep track of all this and more by grouping information, almost without having to think about it once your own personal systematic approach of organization evolves. I have always thought of it this way and my system is still expanding as I discover new ways to organize information as the technology improves. I am still surprised to find that this principle has never occurred to, let alone systematically exploited by, so many people whose use of a computer is an undifferentiated sea of confusion beyond a few primitive habits or few techniques almost forced on them by the relatively newer technology.

So the role of mulitple monitors to separate information in all this is more than being able to see more at a time; it is also part of a much larger system of allowing you as a matter of principle to not see more than you need, outside of your current focus, while making the rest easily accessible when you do need it.

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You should look into the work of Edward Tufte, professor emeritus at Yale and the author of the classic The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and many others.

Thanks! I just ordered his book from Amazon.com and will look into the rest of his work. I appreciate the reccomendation, if you have any others in mind let me know.

So the role of mulitple monitors to separate information in all this is more than being able to see more at a time; it is also part of a much larger system of allowing you as a matter of principle to not see more than you need, outside of your current focus, while making the rest easily accessible when you do need it.

Yes, exactly!

As an aside, I did receive the okay to go from senior mgmt to make this a study, using work resources that include one of my favorite UI people. Happy day. :)

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2 monitors at work (laptop / CRT) and home (hi res laptop / LCD).

At work I keep My weekly calendar on one, and usually email on the other. Home sees us using the LCD mostly.

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To consideration of multiple physical monitors, I would add multiple logical monitors. On Linux I used to have nine logical windows, each just like a separate monitor, and I could organize material in each window and switch between them with a single click as necessary. When I switched to Windows, one of the very first features I added was MicroSoft Virtual Desktop Manager (MSVDM), which has four logical windows, each directly accessible from the task bar. MSVDM is one of the many tools in the free Microsoft PowerToys for Windows XP.

I use two physical monitors, but the addition of MSVDM gives me many more opportunities to organize material, both applications and data.

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To consideration of multiple physical monitors, I would add multiple logical monitors. On Linux I used to have nine logical windows, each just like a separate monitor, and I could organize material in each window and switch between them with a single click as necessary. When I switched to Windows, one of the very first features I added was MicroSoft Virtual Desktop Manager (MSVDM), which has four logical windows, each directly accessible from the task bar.

That is what the virtual desktops are.

MSVDM is one of the many tools in the free Microsoft PowerToys for Windows XP.

I use two physical monitors, but the addition of MSVDM gives me many more opportunities to organize material, both applications and data.

Video controller manufacturers provide their own virtual desktop software with different features and different means of control.

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You should look into the work of Edward Tufte, professor emeritus at Yale and the author of the classic The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and many others.

Thanks! I just ordered his book from Amazon.com and will look into the rest of his work. I appreciate the reccomendation, if you have any others in mind let me know.

I don't think you will find computer monitor displays explicitly discussed in that particular book but it is a good place to start on his work.

...I did receive the okay to go from senior mgmt to make this a study, using work resources that include one of my favorite UI people. Happy day. :)

There are several books on designing GUIs. Ask your UI people if they have recommendations that might be directly applicable to your project or what technical bookstore you might visit to look through what they have.

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To consideration of multiple physical monitors, I would add multiple logical monitors. On Linux I used to have nine logical windows, each just like a separate monitor, and I could organize material in each window and switch between them with a single click as necessary. When I switched to Windows, one of the very first features I added was MicroSoft Virtual Desktop Manager (MSVDM), which has four logical windows, each directly accessible from the task bar. MSVDM is one of the many tools in the free Microsoft PowerToys for Windows XP.

I use two physical monitors, but the addition of MSVDM gives me many more opportunities to organize material, both applications and data.

Great point. It would be interesting for me to observe a session in which you use this - I think people have gotten incredibly creative using the logical monitors - although I wonder if I would get overwhelmed by 9.

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Great point. It would be interesting for me to observe a session in which you use this - I think people have gotten incredibly creative using the logical monitors - although I wonder if I would get overwhelmed by 9.

Again, this is the same as the virtual desktops mentioned previously.

9 are not difficult to keep track of. Think of them as arranged in an array:

----------------
| | | |
----------------
| | | |
----------------
| | | |
----------------

The entire array is a virtual display workspace. Any one cell may coincide with a physical monitor as a "window" into the space. With the usoft windows implementation of this that I have used, you can continuously scroll up or down or sideways so the "window" moves across the space, focusing on a single cell or overlapping.

Rather than keeping track of a linear index of display cells, you think of them just like you think of the location of anything on a physical monitor -- top, upper right, etc. If your actual working information display is complex enough, the 9 cells actually simplify keeping track of where things are as if it were a giant screen, but allowing you to selectively focus on one region while ignoring the rest.

Using two physical monitors is less expensive than a single monitor with the same total screen area, but also adds the subtle psychological characteristic of physically isolating two regions as an aid in focusing on one while ignoring the other.

The two physical monitors are always "on", making it much faster to switch focus than in the virtual desktop where you have to physically select a cell or scroll, but two monitors take up more physical space (you can put them next to each other or one on top of the other). More than two monitors takes up a lot more space and can become cumbersome or a strain reading a display with small text or other features at a greater distance.

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I think people have gotten incredibly creative using the logical monitors - although I wonder if I would get overwhelmed by 9.

People with nine or more rooms in their home are not overwhelmed by that number. They quite easily go to the kitchen when they want to prepare food, to their bedroom when they want to sleep, etc. In my office I have bookcases composed of 13" x 13" cubes, into which I organize my books. I know exactly which bins house books on and by Einstein, history of relativity, special relativity, general relativity, quantum mechanics, etc. Having a series of logical monitors is quite similar, where, for me, each "bin" contains a certain functionality. When "bins" are ordered logically, knowing how to go to the proper bin on the computer is no more difficult than knowing how to go the kitchen when I am hungry (though the logical bin does not taste as good :)).

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The two physical monitors are always "on", making it much faster to switch focus than in the virtual desktop where you have to physically select a cell or scroll, but two monitors take up more physical space (you can put them next to each other or one on top of the other). More than two monitors takes up a lot more space and can become cumbersome or a strain reading a display with small text or other features at a greater distance.

Another option that I have seen are desks that have a monitor under a glass desktop. The monitor screen is actually horizontal. The second monitor could than be placed on top of the desk.

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People with nine or more rooms in their home are not overwhelmed by that number. They quite easily go to the kitchen when they want to prepare food, to their bedroom when they want to sleep, etc. In my office I have bookcases composed of 13" x 13" cubes, into which I organize my books. I know exactly which bins house books on and by Einstein, history of relativity, special relativity, general relativity, quantum mechanics, etc. Having a series of logical monitors is quite similar, where, for me, each "bin" contains a certain functionality. When "bins" are ordered logically, knowing how to go to the proper bin on the computer is no more difficult than knowing how to go the kitchen when I am hungry (though the logical bin does not taste as good :)).

And you retain the organization in terms of geometrical relations, not a linear index. (Few people find their own books by remembering the order in the Library of Congress numbering scheme or ISBN numbers.) In Stephen's case, the geometrical perspective is a little different -- he organizes the information in terms of the bookshelf/refrigerator/swimming pool space-time continuum. :)

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In Stephen's case, the geometrical perspective is a little different -- he organizes the information in terms of the bookshelf/refrigerator/swimming pool space-time continuum. :)

Considering the speed at which I eat and swim, the hardest part was getting used to refrigerator dilation and swimming pool contraction. :)

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Considering the speed at which I eat and swim, the hardest part was getting used to refrigerator dilation and swimming pool contraction. :)

You had better doubly monitor that problem.

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Please tell me about your set-up, what you used before and why you like your current setup more (I'm assuming it is better, or you would have reverted to the previous setup). Please tell me about the kind of work you do and what windows/applications you tend to have open, as well as how many at any given time. If you're really into this topic, feel free to give me as much detail as you want.

At work:

2 monitors at 1280x1024, at about a 135 degree angle

I usually have my start bar on the right monitor 3 levels high (no grouping). My goal is usually to keep it so that the minimized windows are at full size on the start bar and there are a couple open spaces before they decrease in size (to accommodate for any short-term windows I need to open).

Typical applications open (~12-14):

Query Analyzer: 3-5 windows

Visual Studio: 1-3 windows

Internet Explorer: 1-6 windows

Trillian: 1-4 windows

Outlook: 1-3 windows

Command Prompt: 1-4 windows

Notepad: 0-2 windows

Communicator: 0-1 window

  • I usually use separate query analyzer windows rather than multiple queries/connections in one window
  • I don't often use tabs in my web browser
  • Email is always opened on the left, with work on the right
  • If one particular task ever requires more than one screen, I have no problem covering up my email

I often find myself starting something and immediately going to work on something else, only to be interrupted when it's done and prioritizing when multiple things are finished. On occasion I've filled up the left screen with 8-10 command prompts so I can monitor the progress of those programs. Usually, though, I can just leave things in the background and come back to them.

At least once a day I do something requiring switching between 4-5 windows and sometimes constantly needing access to a portion of my desktop. In the case of one such recurring task I use both monitors with a command prompt, portion of my desktop, and notepad all vertically oriented on the left side of my right monitor, excel on the right, and internet explorer on the left monitor.

At home:

2 monitors + 1 TV (media center PC)

I don't use this as intensely, although I maintain the same start bar size, with a different breakdown:

Internet Explorer: ~8

Trillian: 2-4

Notepad: 1-2

Outlook: 1

Media Center: 0-1

I initially moved my home computer from 1 to 2 monitors for media center, but I am not usually watching tv or a movie so I often just used both monitors like usual. When I would watch a movie I would feel very frustrated at my inability to use the other monitor at all, so I just hooked it up to my TV and use my media center there now. Since my TV has such low resolution, I never use it normally as a monitor. This way, if I want some entertainment on in the background it does not feel like I'm having to trade useful space for it.

Multiple monitors has definitely been a one-way change for me. If I go back to one monitor I feel helpless and claustrophobic. :) When using my laptop I'm not usually devoting my full attention to working hard, so I don't notice the single monitor limitation very much.

Also, one more thing to note:

I often remember what windows are doing based on the order in which they are opened and/or their location on the start bar. If the start menu icons get resized or crammed together and switch lines, I lose some of my organization and efficiency. This is how I chose the 3 level start bar--it handles almost perfectly the number of windows I typically have open, without taking up unnecessary room.

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Cinema HD at home and at work. ;) That's a 30" 2560x1600 LCD with an exceptional color profile. If you're spending more than a few hours in front of the computer each day, think long and hard about what your eyesight and five years of comfort are worth -- it's a marvelous product. Dell's got a similar model using the same LCD panel if anyone is price-shopping.

It's really all about the desktop space, not the number of monitors, of course. And this is enough space that I can keep my project, our bug database or my email, and my debugger all visible at once. That's all that matters to me!

I used to use multiple 1600x1200 displays, but I never quite got used to the seam between displays. I also found that I'd end up favoring one display and wasting the other the vast majority of the time. With the single large display, if I'm working on a single-windowed task for long periods I can size it to the entire workspace. This is especially useful when editing large Word documents, reading PDF files, or Reutering photos.

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A consideration for those with multiple LCDs:

Windows ATI and nVidia drivers and all current Mac drivers can rotate displays 90 degrees without substantial performance loss. A number of coworkers have dual LCDs, and they leave the main display in landscape (long) orientation while putting the extra screen in portrait (tall) orientation. The tall orientation requires less desk space and is great for things like word processors and browsers.

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